Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hiking around looking at "stuff"

I've been out looking on Beech and Oak for Slug Moth caterpillars before the season ends, but haven't had much luck. I did come across this striking IO moth larva. I won't begin to list their food plants, as they number over 100. The name comes from Greek Mythology. IO was a maiden seduced by Zeus (what's new).

The story goes that Zeus, due to his infidelities, disguised IO as a young calf so his jealous wife Hera wouldn't recognize her. But she saw through it all and sent stinging deer, horse and bot flies to forever torment her. The stinging abilities of the IO caterpillar are not to be taken lightly.

IO caterpillars have two types of spines. The black hair like setae, which simply need to be touched to emit their toxin, and the green sharp spines which inject a poison upon penetrating the skin. Reactions in people range from a mild Stinging Nettle sensation to really severe pain.

The galls were all found in Oak dominated woods, but I've been hiking mesic woods, wetlands, hemlock gorges, prairies, and parks. The following are just a batch of miscellaneous pictures from some of those locations. These creamy white shooting star like flowers are from Tall White Lettuce, Prenanthes altissima.

The flowers when first popping out may point upward, but eventually will droop down. There are several similar species in our area, and both flowers and leaves should be examined. Some have leaves highly divided like a cats paw or lions foot, others are arrowhead shaped like these. Some species will show both divided and undivided leaves.

I have come across a wide variety of tree crickets this summer. Perhaps I'll do a post on them after accumulating a diverse group of photos. This is a female, you can see the ovipositor in back. I focused in on the head region for identification. Along with the red head, the basal portions of the antennae are also red, making this the Broad-winged Tree Cricket, Oecanthus latipennis.

Halictid Bees are important pollinators and many can be recognized by their iridescent green and gold colors. This is Augochlora pura, the Green Sweat Bee. I've never had a problem with this one landing on me. It's the little black sweat bees that can be annoying.

The Red or Golden Net-winged Beetle, Dictyoptera aurora. The Lycidae family contains beetles that have raised veins along the wings. Unlike most beetles, the wings or elytra are soft. One would think this makes them more vulnerable to attack, but the bright color is a warning to predators that they taste bad. The shield shaped thorax looks a little like that on Firefly Beetles, which they are related to.

I posted a green Walking Stick earlier this summer, but as the leaves turn from green to brown, so do these critters. The upper one with the green front legs is a male. It is smaller and skinnier than the female. I found them together trying to mate. He darted for cover as I approached. Apparently I was an unwelcome guest. After the pairs have been joined together for awhile, it's hard to separate them. Look for mated pairs during the rest of October, especially in oak woods.

Several students have been asking about all the fat bodied spiders they see in the woods right now. The Orb Weavers are abundant around here in the fall. This is Verrucosa arenata, the Arrowhead Orb Weaver. The triangular abdomen can be yellow or white. Before reading up on this species, I had never paid attention to how they rest in the web. Orb Weavers as a whole all sit on a web with their head facing down. V. arenata sits with its head looking up. Research has shown that unless you are an oversized glutton, these guys are just as fast and successful wrapping prey running up as other species are running down the web.

Beggar-ticks, Spanish Needles, Tickseed-sunflowers, or Bur-marigolds. Whichever common name you prefer, the Bidens are common late summer and fall bloomers. Look in any moist ditch or wetland. This common species is Bidens polylepis.

Some Bidens have opposite simple leaves, but most are divided. This is Bidens frondosa, with its eight bracts behind the flower head. Most people don't even see this plant, or else think it's done flowering. This is in full bloom. The flowers have no petals or rays.

Just about on its way out. I was lucky to get this as it was starting to turn brown. The White Gentian, Gentiana alba is rare in Ohio. It's related to the brighter colored Blue Bottle Gentians. Not as showy as the Fringed Gentians either, it's still a good find. Look for it on prairies. Speaking of Gentians, go visit The Natural Treasures of Ohio. Andrew Gibson just did a nice post on Fringed Gentians.

While out shooting asters, I took the opportunity to get this Orange Sulphur butterfly. The Alfalfa or Orange Sulphur looks similar to the yellow Clouded Sulphur when the wings are closed.

On both sulphurs the sex is determined by the outer edge of the front wing. This is a female because of the spots in the black portion. The males have unbroken black bands. The white Cabbage Butterfly females also have more spots on the wing than males.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bush Honeysuckles

In our continuing battle with exotic invasive species, there are 3 honeysuckle shrubs that add to the problem. Once widely planted, their spread has proved difficult to control. Birds have discovered the fruit, and the seeds have been distributed into unwanted locations. All three look similar to the above pictures, but with close examination can be readily separated.

1a) Leaves broadly egg shaped ending in a long fine tip.... Amur Honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii (above)
1b) Leaves shorter, blunter, more oval, without a long tip...2 (below)

2a) New growth twigs tomentose, covered in hairs...Morrow's Honeysuckle, Lonicera morrowii
2b) New growth twigs glabrous, smooth and hairless...Tatarian Honeysuckle, Lonicera tataria

All these honeysuckles have opposite simple leaves with entire margins (no teeth). The flowers and fruit are arranged in pairs. Amur Honeysuckle flowers are white and yellow, similar to Japanese Honeysuckle.

Each of these honeysuckles produce red berries. There are very subtle differences in the stalks. Amur is said to have fruit stalks less than a quarter inch, while the others are a quarter inch or greater. I see no reason to try and measure such a difference when the leaves make identification of this species certain.

(from 2b)
Tatarian Honeysuckle, (often misspelled with an extra r as in Tartarian), is best identified by feeling the new growth twigs, they are hairless. Tatarian flowers range from white to pink.

The fruit of Morrow's Honeysuckle looks identical to Tatarian.

Morrow's and Tatarian can both have plants with either red or orange fruit.

When in doubt, examine the twigs. Morrow's will be hairy throughout the new growth and into the leaf petioles. (from 2a)

The flowers range from white to a creamy yellow.

Just when you feel you have these three down pat, along comes a hairy plant with pink flowers. I posted this back in the spring, and am still not sure what this is. Everything points to the Tatarian-Morrow hybrid, Bell's Honeysuckle, Lonicera x bella. So yes, they hybridize, great.

One other thing you should always check. Clip the branch in half and look inside. These exotics all have hollow centers (piths). Similar looking native shrubs are solid inside.

This summer I observed a Morrow's Honeysuckle with wrinkled deformed leaves, many of which were dead. Has a virus found its way to these plants? One could only hope. It looks similar to what I've seen attacking Multi-flora Rose lately. All natural resource agencies know these honeysuckle species are being discouraged, yet I still see many gardeners on line selling them. Guess it's all about the money.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blazing Stars, Liatris in Ohio

Whether you call them Gay Feather or Blazing Stars, the Liatris are some of the best plants for attracting butterflies. There are 6 native species in Ohio that are prairie remnants. I have had success planting some them from seed, but plowing a field where they occur actually stimulates growth. The corms, or what some people call bulbs, are easily broken apart. I have seen them spread clear across a field using this technique.

To identify which you have, start by putting them into two groups.

Plants with flowers crowded into a long spike....2 species

Plants with flower heads separate from each other, or in small clusters scattered along stem....4 species.

Of the two crowded species, the most common one I come across is the Spiked Blazing Star, Liatris spicata. The stem and leaves are usually smooth, but I rarely depend on that.

You have to look at the phyllaries or bracts under the flower head. On spicata, the bracts are flat and stay appressed against one another.

Occasionally you will find the alba form of Spiked Blazing Star. These are often sought after by gardeners, and commonly sold at nurseries.

The other similar looking species is the Prairie Blazing Star, Liatris pycnostchya. Overall, this plant is hairy on the leaf and stem, but as I mentioned, I don't rely on that.

As before, examine the flower up close. In pycnostachya, the bracts don't lay flat, but are recurved.

The other four species present a greater challenge. You can see how the flower heads are larger, rounder, and spread apart like balls of chewed bubble gum. While this isn't a good picture, it does give you an idea of its smaller size. This is Dwarf Blazing Star, Liatris cylindracea. The two spiked species can reach 5 feet in height, but this species may grow only 2 feet.

I think you'll see a theme here. You have to look at the bracts on ALL of the Blazing Stars. L. cylindracea has bracts that are sharply pointed and end in a thorn like mucronate tip. To me this species also looks to have narrow flower heads, like maroon corn on the cob. All of the Blazing Stars are planted in prairie plots today, but historically this species was restricted to a few southern counties here in Ohio.

When I see this species, it looks as if it has been beaten down or windblown, in other words, a loose scraggly appearance. Of course botanically that means nothing. This small to medium sized species is the Scaly Blazing Star, Liatris squarrosa. The bracts are long pointed or scaly, and project or spread outward from the flowerhead. The rest of the plant is highly variable. The flowers can be large or small, many or few, the flower stalk long or short, and the stem and leaves hairy or smooth. Stick to the bracts!

The last two species are the hardest to separate, at least for me. Both are medium to large species. I've seen them at least 4 foot tall in Iowa prairies. Both have robust rounded flower heads. This one is the Rough Blazing Star, Liatris aspera. The bracts are not pointed but round, and look like swollen lips. If you have a hand lens, look at the edge of each bract. They have an obvious fringe on them. Also look at how the flowers are sessile, or nearly so with a very short stalk. The leaves below the flowers are very narrow or thin, and this tends to be the case all the way down the stem.

Last but not least are these three pics of Liatris scariosa. Common names include Eastern, Northern, or Blue Blazing Star. The native range in Ohio for this and the previous species are a few southern counties, and the counties surrounding the Oak Openings near Toledo. The characters I use to separate this from aspera are first the bracts. These are rounded with a smooth looking rim. A hand lens may reveal a very fine lace like edge. The bracts lay flat, like a thumb print, and are not swollen. They turn from green to maroon red. The flower stalks are also red and much longer than aspera. The leaves are not as thin, but broader throughout the plant stem.